Imagine UCF were Arkansas State, Austin Peay or East Carolina. Imagine if Memphis put the clinic on that inferior competition like it did against the Knights in a 77-61 victory over the Knights on Wednesday night.
Things might be a different, and the outlook for Memphis might be a little better. But despite it all, maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing signs that the Tigers are on their way.
Memphis did to UCF what Memphis is known for doing — completely overwhelming opponents with athleticism, talent and defense.
“That was a good win for Memphis,” Tigers coach Josh Pastner said. “I told everyone back out in the summer to throw out all of the expectations because they weren’t fair. They were recruiting expectations. We’re going to take lumps, have peaks and valleys, and there are going to be road blocks and obstacles. I told everybody that we have a long way to go. … We’re not there yet, but we’re getting better each game and increasing in some areas. That’s a good sign.”
Will Barton, playing in front of his father who traveled from Baltimore, continued to emerge as the Tigers’ star with 17 points and six rebounds. Tarik Black, the freshman big man slowly taking on ownership of the team, had a career-high five blocks while playing against UCF’s 7-foot center, Tom Herzog. Chris Crawford, known for his shooting, showed yet again why he deserves to be known for his passing with a game-high seven assists.
And that’s just a sampling of the players who really contributed.
With veteran forward Wesley Witherspoon indefinitely suspended from the team, these young Tigers are being forced to look directly in the mirror for guidance, and it’s helped them grow up. There’s no veteran out there to make a big play on the road at Southern Miss, so Joe Jackson and Charles Carmouche did it. There’s no one out there to turn it on offensively and really light up the scoreboard when the Tigers need a push, so Will Barton did it.
The same Tigers that couldn’t shut down Tennessee State finished the first half Wednesday night on a 22-8 scoring run and carrying a 47-28 lead into the locker room. And though Memphis let up in the latter part of the second half, the Tigers never let their seemingly inevitable fourth-straight victory come into question.
“We just want to win games,” Barton said. “Guys are more focused and more locked-in. No one wants to lose anymore.”
That’s not to say these Tigers won’t still have growing pains, or that they won’t show their youth anymore. That’s going to happen. It even happened late in the game against UCF when Pastner benched Barton.
“(Barton) got real fancy toward the end, and he let his guard down instead of staying focused and understand the value of each possession and how important that is,” Pastner said. “Part of that is him having to mature and grow in those areas and simulate those situations. Whether the lead is 20 or two, he has to play with the same mindset.”
Barton and the Tigers are getting there. In the meantime, it’s still pretty fun to watch.
Memphis will travel to Huntington, W.V., on Saturday for a 6 p.m. game at Marshall. The game, however, will not be carried on television.
“We have spoken with several television affiliates and production companies over the last 10 days, inquiring as to gaining television coverage in the Memphis market,” said Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson. “We have exhausted every possibility, but to no avail. We apologize to our fans and will continue in our attempts to have television coverage for all of our games.”